It keeps the beat of life flowing through our veins. It doesn’t ask for much from us, but it’s essential to our every breath. It’s thought of as the “body’s engine room” and the center of our life force. It’s the super muscle that counts out every second of our lives to keep us vibrant and healthy. Yes, I’m talking about our hearts.
Sadly, the heart has become one of the most disease-ridden organs globally, particularly in the United States. Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death nationally, though healthy lifestyle habits can dramatically reduce such unfortunate prospects. One in four women die from heart disease yet women’s heart problems are often overlooked and undiagnosed until it is too late.
Maybe it’s because we women are so good at focusing on others and ignoring our own needs. Our sensitivity can even cause us to suffer heart attacks from the “Broken Heart Syndrome” without any prior heart disease.
This month, I’ve been observing what nurtures my heart while balancing its desires with the necessities of a busy life. Here’s 4 surprising discoveries that are easy to do on a daily basis to keep your heart healthy!
Feed your heart beauty
Gazing on something overwhelmingly beautiful or listening to an extraordinary musical concert inspires the feeling of awe. Feeling awe, it turns out, lowers pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins produced by our immune system that can go into overdrive and produce inflammation. A daily dose of awe can also beat back depression. Positive emotions are associated with low cytokine levels, and awe and wonder are especially good at lowering inflammation which is so damaging to our hearts.
I’ve found it easy to listen to music that moves me while I’m cooking dinner or driving to and from work. If I take a break from my work for just a few moments to gaze on inspiring art or photographs on my computer, awe can overwhelm me. That quick hit of awe gives me a sense of renewal in the middle of my day. Awe helps me connect to my sense of purpose which is what our hearts love!
Walk Amongst The Trees
Have you heard of “forest bathing”? The Japanese have studied the effects of walking through forests on our immune system and they’ve found that forest bathing, which they call shinrin-yoku, reduces stress, anxiety, and anger. Nature, whether you find it in a local park or by hiking in wilderness, has an incredibly calming effect on our hearts.
Recently I visited Northern California and took a walk through a redwood forest. Talk about awe! My friend who took me on the hike told me about her experience going through chemotherapy. Every day she walked through the forest and sat on a bench looking out over the hills to the ocean. She credits those walks with keeping her balanced, positive, and relatively healthy through such a difficult period.
Ok, maybe we can’t all walk through forests every day, but we can connect with trees wherever we live. Trees breathe out oxygen, purify our air, and emit essential oils all of which keep our hearts healthy. Walking itself is incredibly heart healthy so find your place in nature to walk among trees as many times a week as you can!
Listen to Your Heart in Stillness
You’ve most likely read that meditation is an excellent stress-reducer. Dr. Dean Ornish has proven in his renowned program for reversing heart disease that meditation is a valuable part of restoring heart health.
But I know how hard it feels to find time on a daily basis to sit and listen to my breath. I love to meditate but the demands of the day often are pressing too hard on me in the morning so I don’t feel like I can take the time to do a full-on meditation. Then at night, I’m too sleepy to meditate!
I’ve found that I can get much of the good effects of meditation more informally and quicker if I take a few moments of stillness throughout my day. We keep our minds hyper-focused the majority of the time, concentrating on the task at hand or the screen in front of us. Here’s what helps me relax and expand my awareness quickly:
I diffuse my focus so I can see the peripheral sides of my vision. I take a few deep breaths while observing the full spectrum of what I can see and then I close my eyes. I concentrate on feeling my heart center in the middle of my chest. And I listen. Sometimes I don’t hear anything but I may feel a warm sensation. Other times, a thought occurs to me that seems to come from my heart. I find that the act of listening and feeling into my heart center is key to my well being!
I can practice this at my desk or when doing something simple like sipping a cup of Teeccino. If, like me, you need help remembering to take a break, you can set a ring tone on your phone or computer to give you a gentle nudge.
Eating and Moving for Healthy Hearts
It is a fact that heart disease can be avoided and even reversed through a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle. Moving away from a sedentary lifestyle fueled by a high-fat, high-sugar diet is the first step, while reducing – or altogether eliminating caffeine – further paves the way toward improved heart health. Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, minerals like magnesium and potassium, and supplements like vitamin E and CoQ10 are all essential to maintaining or restoring heart health.
If you have heart disease, I highly recommend the work of the most respected heart researcher, Dr. Dean Ornish. His book, The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight and Gain Health, provides everything you need to put you on the path to heart health. But beyond the physical, we’re feeling, thinking, and spiritual beings. The three tips I’ve shared provide the extra piece that speaks to our inner selves. I hope you give your heart the gift of good health by feeling awe, finding time to be in nature among trees, and taking a moment to listen to your heart!